Izabela Dłużyk

Oramics / 10 Feb 2019

Izabela Dłużyk was born on 7 May 1989 in Gdansk. She is blind since birth, but, as she admits, perhaps this condition developed her special sensitivity to sound. As a child, she became interested in nature, especially birds and their voices. Her gradual exploration of sonic diversity of nature soon turned into a passion for recording, not only birds, but also other animals and general sounds of nature – a passion which she did not abandon ever since. At the same time, discovering the world of birds lead her to become fascinated with one special group of these creatures – parrots, with which she currently shares her life. During her studies at the university, after several years of recording as an amateur, Izabela started to work ona fully professional equipment, using a microphone specially adapted to recording nature sounds. At the same time she graduated in English and Russian studies at the University of Gdańsk. In 2015, she began her cooperation with an Australian publisher Listening Earth, which released three of her albums: Echoes from the Ancient Forest, Morning at the Łutowniariver and Morning Soundscapes from the Biebrza Marshes. In 2016, her two similar albums appeared on the Polish market thanks to Soliton, a Polish publisher. In the same year, LOM, a company from Slovakia, released her album Soundscapes of Summer, whereas a year later – Soundscapes of Spring. Both titles are to become a part of a larger series entitled The Four Seasons, from which the remaining two albums are currently in preparation. Izabela also plans to publish this series in the Polish language, enriched with photographs of nature by Tomasz Ogrodowczyk. In 2017, Izabela travelled to Peru in order to document soundscapes from the Amazonian rainforest. Recordings from that expedition will be published shortly. As she says, “(…) throughrecording nature, I am trying to capture its beauty, its subtle music, itsgentle voice. Iamtrying to understand its mystery: the mystery of life,thisindescribable treasure we share with all creatures, the mystery of fleeting moments,of sadness and hope brought by changing seasons… I am grateful for everything nature has taught me from its wisdom, and I am pleased that, throughmy recordings, I can share at least some glimpses of its beauty.”

1. Do you remember the moment when you became interested in the technology/equipment which you currently use the most? How did it happen that you followed this path? Write a few words about what you do.

Currently, I am involved in professional recording of nature. It all started when, as a child, I became interested in recognizing the voices of birds and soon afterwards began to record them using a simple cassette recorder. When I bought the first few cassettes with bird voices, I knew already at that point that sometime in the future I would like to make similar professional recordings. After a few years, I learned about a SWEDISH company that produces the world famous parabolic microphones designed specifically for recording wildlife. For quite a long period of time this equipment was completely beyond my financial capabilities, but at some point I seriously decided to purchase it and since then it took me a few years to gather the necessary funds.

2. Have you ever struggled with stereotypes in your head? Girls often say that at the beginning they used to struggle with an inner conviction that equipment is not for women. How is it possible to overcome this blockade?

It is interesting that it never occurred to me to see my planned purchase of equipment through the prism of gender. Indeed, at that time I heard only about men who worked as nature recordists, but I did not pay attention to this detail in the context of my being a woman, thus I didn’t have to struggle with any inner blockade – it seemed quite natural that if I want to record nature, I just buy the equipment and that’s it. Maybe it resulted from specific nature of my childlike and later still youthful thinking, which tends to be quite straightforward?…

3. What is your current obsession/interest regarding sound, what are you currently focusing on in your work?

I am currently in the process of carrying out a number of sound projects, but they all come down to portraying the sonic diversity of nature as an aesthetic, sometimes therapeutic, and to some extent also educational asset. Music of nature is the most subtle kind of music, mostly positively perceived by people regardless of age, world view, music tastes or health status. This is an extremely valuable tool that I am constantly striving to use, depending on current opportunities and possibilities. I focus Mainly on recording Polish nature, i.e. I treat any trips to more remote corners of the world rather as a bonus or an addition, not as a goal in itself. The only absolute requirement for me is that my recordings need to be free of sounds of civilization. Through this vision, I want to depict nature in its purest and most unspoiled form, free from all kinds of technological noises, of which, as I believe, we have enough anyway… Only in such “silence” it is possible to discover that in nature every sound can be a piece of art, such as a specific echo, a creaking tree or the falling snow. That is why, although I never mix or modify my recordings, nevertheless I sometimes decide to expose some particularly charming elements and I zoom them in with the parabolic microphone, e.g. an echo of a bird’s voice, water flowing through a tree trunk which fell into the river etc.

4. What proved to be the greatest inspiration for your work this year?

Working with nature very often requires long-term planning, even several years ahead, and is usually carried out relatively slowly, so I find it hard to point out an inspiration specifically from this year. Nature has its own rules, such as e.g. seasons, to which I have to adjust. This often means waiting for an appropriate period to take a particular recording, therefore currently I have some ideas and inspirations from previous years and I am slowly working on their implementation all the time. One such inspiration for me was an initiative organized by a certain radio station a few years ago, which consisted in recording CDs with fairy tales for children and sending them to children’s hospital wards. This gave me the idea to create a set of CDs which I could donate to hospitals and hospices. I am aware that I will need to be very careful in choosing appropriately gentle recordings for this and, apart from that, I will need to to find people who could help me reach out to such places. I don’t want to hurry, as I would like to share on those discs the most beautiful sounds of nature I can capture, and this  shall take time.

5. What was your biggest obstacle/lesson this year and how did you cope with it?

Generally, in recording nature, the biggest obstacle is its unpredictability. I tried last year to record a tawny owl, but even though I was shown the exact spot where it would dwell, and the time of year and weather were adequate, the bird did not call even once. Here no one can ever guarantee you anything, so sometimes the most difficult thing to overcome is our aspirations. You need a lot of patience and you need to remember that nature will not play our “scenarios”. The example of recording owls illustrates yet another problem – that almost all of them call at night, and not everyone feels brave enough to venture into the forest at night. Of course, as a blind person I need a companion for all my excursions, and if someone does not feel comfortable with this, I need to respect that. Therefore, I resolve the issue of night recording in such a way that I prepare the equipment in the evening, I set it at the desired location and leave, then I come back to collect it in the morning. On the one hand, in such cases the animals tend to come up close to the microphone, but on the other hand, I cannot react to what is happening, for example, to change the direction of the microphone to better capture a given sound. After all, I managed to take some of my most interesting recordings precisely at night, e.g. recently, quite by accident, I recorded the courtship of eagle owls this way.

6. What advice would you give to girls who would like to follow a similar artistic / professional path as you do? How to start? Who to ask? Where to get to know the equipment?

First of all, we need to answer the question of what sounds of nature we exactly want to record, because we will choose the equipment according to this. Do we prefer to focus on single species? – for this, a parabolic or a directional microphone will serve the best. Do we want to record general soundscapes and everything they include? – if so, a better choice will be a configuration of at least two separate microphones arranged at a distance to obtain a better stereo effect. Or perhaps we would like to combine both techniques? Regardless of what we choose, we must remember that the most important piece of equipment is not so much the sound recorder, as the microphone. I had no opportunity to directly try out my microphone before purchase, so I had to trust the opinions of other users. For this, in order not to make a mistake, it is very important to find out as much as possible about different products. A good suggestion is to especially keep in mind the companies which have been operating for many years, because they are the most reliable. It may be helpful to search for online groups gathering nature recordists. On various websites there are valuable guides on selection of equipment for novice wildlife recording enthusiasts. We can also directly ask professional recordists, although we need to bear in mind that not every “magician” will want to share their “secret spells”. If I were to summarize briefly my experience, I would say that it does not require extraordinary knowledge or special skills. Just calmly think it through, and decide to try – it’s really worth it. I did – and I don’t regret.

Interview led by Justyna Banaszczyk in January 2019